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Americas Best Communities Competition

Closing the skills gap

America’s Best Communities effort hopes to accentuate workforce fitness

By Howard Greninger
Community and business officials hope they can demonstrate that Terre Haute is “Workforce FIT” as they plan for a second-round entry into the $10 million America’s Best Communities competition.

Workforce FIT, with a logo designed by Brian Miller, is the focus of Terre Haute’s entry to increase workforce development to close a local skills gap and bolster Terre Haute’s economy. A group of nearly 40 community leaders met Wednesday at The Ohio Building and began brainstorming on six concepts that include a boot camp, training, community image, entrepreneurial activity, leadership development and community engagement.

“Many manufacturing executives cite workforce concerns as the leading factor that determines where they can be competitive,” said Lisa Lee, executive director of WorkOne Western Indiana.

“Nearly half of the new jobs are considered middle-skill jobs,” Lee said, which require an associated degree or certificate.

“The skills gap is here now,” Lee said. “More than half of the new jobs are considered mid-skill jobs, so what is happening now is people are being shut out of the workforce because they don’t have those mid skills. We have a bad unemployment rate, but yet we have employers say­

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza

Improving our self-image: Doug Dillion, career and technical education director for the Vigo County School Corp.,

talks about ideas his small group came up with to help improve the image of the community, internally and externally,

during a planning conference for the Frontier America’s Best Communities contest on Wednesday at the Ohio Building.

Tribune Star file photo/Joseph C. Garza

Making our technological future brighter: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tells Terre Haute North Vigo High School students

on Jan. 27 that they can achieve their educational goals if they put their mind to it and their heart in it a press conference at North. 


Fit: Competition also has a social media component on Twitter and Facebook

Terre Haute is a quarter-finalist in the competition launched last year, aimed at revitalizing the economies of small to medium towns and cities. The competition, sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, The Weather Channel and CoBank, started with 350 communities and has been narrowed to 50.

Marc Evans, Frontier southwest regional general manager, said because more than 50 additional companies have since joined as sponsors of the competition, quarter- finalists now have a mentoring company. For example NBC Universal is mentoring for the city of Jasper, while AT&T is the mentoring company for Terre Haute.

“So, Terre Haute has $65,000 total to implement its plan, as they get $15,000 from the mentor company, $35,000 from the competition,” and $15,000 from a required match for the city. Western Indiana Workforce Development Board paid the city’s match, Lee said.

Yet Terre Haute leaders are working to get more than that.

The next stage — with entries due on Nov. 6 and judging done early next year — will reduce 50 communities to 15, with eight of those winning $100,000, Evans said, to move to the final stage.

Winners in the second stage will then work on their final plans throughout 2016. In April 2017, America’s Best Communities will name its three competition winners — with first place to receive $3 million, $2 million for second and $1 million for third, to implement their plans.

The competition, Lee said, has themes each month, and this month’s theme is revitalization and includes making videos that demonstrate work being done to revitalize the community. “Terre Haute certainly has a lot of examples of revitalization,” Lee said.

“This is a competition and we need your help drawing attention and support,” Lee said, especially in social media. Terre Haute’s effort is on Twitter at #1terrehaute and on the Web at terrehauteamericasbest. org and on Facebook at terrehaute americasbest. America’s Best is competition on Twitter at #ABC50.

“The more people we get visiting Facebook and posting on there, the better we will be,” Miller said.

Before the planning effort, Mayor Duke Bennett said Workforce FIT “will benefit the people of our community, with people who need fitness to get their job skills up to where they need to be and will benefit our local employers. This will help set Terre Haute apart that we have a system in place to help people progress, increase their wages and deliver these people to the employers who need these skilled and high skilled jobs. It fits between a lot of programs that already exist and things that don’t exist, so it fills that gap. It is very exciting proposal for our community,” Bennett said.

While addressing the group, Bennett said workforce development will be an ongoing effort. “But, if we don’t do something different, we will not be able to meet that need,” he said In a breakout brainstorm session on training, Andy Volkl with Thyssenkrupp Presta Terre Haute LLC, suggested that businesses join together as a single training group. Businesses would have to commit and join to lead skill training. Any business involved would then reap skilled labor. The group would have to identify a category of skills needed by participating companies, and participants would have to be shown that training can lead to employment, Volkl suggested.

That a pool of skilled workers is being maintained can also be shown to any new potential employer, he said.

Lee said the community’s current effort to develop a workforce plan “is a living document, and the goals have been updated a couple of times already,” she said. “We are working in groups to establish the framework.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.